The Social Welfare system in Ireland is divided into three main types of payments. These are:
- Social insurance payments
- Means tested welfare payments
- Universal payments.
With all social welfare payments, you must satisfy specific personal circumstances: for example, to claim the One-Parent Family Payment, you must be parenting alone and therefore not cohabiting or living with someone as man and wife. As well as satisfying the necessary circumstantial criteria for welfare, other rules also apply which are briefly explained under the headings for the different types of payments.
Social insurance payments
Social insurance payments are given to people who satisfy specific social insurance contribution conditions (PRSI conditions), in addition to the necessary circumstantial conditions. These conditions vary, depending on the payment you apply for. Examples of payments based on your social insurance contributions include Jobseeker's Benefit, Illness Benefit, Maternity Benefit, Invalidity Pension, Carers Benefit and State Pension (Contributory).
Means tested welfare payments
Means tested payments are designed for people who have insufficient PRSI contributions to qualify for the equivalent social insurance-based payments. For example, a person who becomes unemployed, applies for Jobseeker's Benefit but fails to qualify because he or she has insufficient contributions. He or she can instead apply for Jobseeker's Allowance, which is the means tested equivalent payment.
"Means Tested" literally means that the Department of Social and Family Affairs will examine all your sources of income to test if they fall below a certain level. The method of testing your means varies from payment to payment. In some instances, you are allowed a certain amount of money before your entitlement to a payment is affected. The rules that determine how much you can or cannot have depend on the payment you apply for and are often referred to as "income disregards".
Universal payments are paid regardless of a person's income or social insurance record. They are only dependent on the claimant satisfying specific personal circumstances. An example would be Child Benefit (the Children's Allowance is its more common term): a person must simply have a child dependant living with them as defined in the social welfare legislation.
The rules governing social welfare payments are set out in legislation and/or administrative guidelines.
For most social insurance and social assistance payments, decisions in relation to entitlement are made by Deciding Officers. Deciding Officers are social welfare officials appointed under the social welfare legislation. Other payments such as those available under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme and certain administrative schemes are made by officials of the Health Services Executive (HSE) and officials within the Department of Social and Family Affairs, respectively.
Administrative schemes are payments that are not based in legislation but are based on government decisions and administrative guidelines. Examples include the Back to Work Allowance Scheme, awarding of credits, the Fuel Allowance and the Christmas Bonus.
If you are not happy with a decision by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, you have a right to appeal decisions in relation to payments that are based in legislation. Appeals are made to the Social Welfare Appeals Office, an independent statutory body.
If you are not happy with a decision in relation to an administrative scheme, you can ask for an internal review. In this instance, you would put your case to a more senior official within the department requesting an internal review to re-examine your application. You should try to submit as much additional information as possible to help your case.
Rates of payment and dependents
Social welfare payments are divided into payments for the claimant, known as the "personal rate" of payment and payments for any adult and child dependents. The SW 19 Rates of Payment Booklet, published by the Department of Social and Family Affairs every year, details the amount of money payable for each scheme and the amount that will be awarded to dependents of the claimant.
An adult dependent of a claimant is called a "qualified adult". A payment for a qualified adult may be paid for a person who is wholly or mainly maintained by the claimant and is either:
- A spouse (a spouse means a husband, wife, cohabiting partner or a divorced husband or wife of the claimant) or
- A person over 16 years of age who is caring for a child dependent of the claimant.
'Wholly or mainly maintained' - Income limit
A spouse of the claimant or a cohabiting partner is only regarded as being wholly or mainly maintained by the claimant where the weekly income of that person does not exceed 100 euro gross per week.
For many payments, a reduced qualified adult rate will be payable where the spouse/partner's gross income is between 100 euro and 280 euro per week. This applies to people who are receiving:
- Illness Benefit
- Jobseeker's Benefit
- Occupational Injury Benefit
- Disability Allowance
- Jobseeker's Allowance
- Farm Assist
- Pre-Retirement Allowance and
- Incapacity Supplement.
A child dependent is referred to as a "qualified child". A qualified child must be:
- Ordinarily resident in the State
- Not detained in a reformatory or industrial school
- Satisfy the condition as to age
- Children under 18 years are regarded as qualified children. Payments for child dependants are made for children over 18 in some circumstances.
How to apply
If you wish to apply for a particular social welfare payment, you should contact your local social welfare office for an application form and an information leaflet or telephone Local Leaflet Line 1890 20 23 25.